Bad news on jobs and from the Fed is not so much worse than the stock market was expecting

12/06/2010 12:27 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

The government employment numbers were a slap in the face on Friday. But the market seemed unrattled.

After way better than expected retail sales and pending home sales numbers, and an optimistic employment survey from ADP, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on Friday that the economy added only 39,000 nonfarm jobs in November.

That was a huge drop from the 172,000 increase in October and way short of the 130,000 expected by economists, according to

State and local governments continued to cut jobs, as they struggled with budget deficits, but that doesn’t explain the shortfall. The private sector added just 50,00 jobs in November. The consensus among economists was looking for an add of 130,000 private sector jobs. October had seen 160,000 new private sector jobs.

As you might expect income growth, a key factor in a modest revival of the consumer economy in the United States, stalled. Hourly wages didn’t move up at all and the average workweek remained stuck at 34.3 hours.

Optimism that the economy might be improving—or well-founded fears that Congress would let unemployment benefits run out for many long-term unemployed workers—led to an increase of 103,000 in the workforce. Combined with the anemic growth in jobs that took the unemployment rate up to 9.8% from 9.6% in October.

So why didn’t stocks go through the floor on Friday?

Same reason that the reaction to Fed chairman Bernanke’s worry on TV on Sunday night that the economy might need something bigger than a $600 billion boost from the Fed has been so muted today:

Investors aren’t anticipating great times for the U.S. economy. The expectation is just that the economy will be a little bit better than expected in August and modestly better than last year.

The jobs numbers fit that bill. If you think, as many economists do after looking at the jobs numbers, that statistical adjustments will take the October number down and the November number up, you’re left with an average of around 100,000 new jobs added in each month. That’s not enough to make a big dent in unemployment—but then nobody seems to be expecting that to happen anytime soon. But 100,000 a month isn’t that far from the definition of a very slow and jobless recovery that describes the consensus view among economists right now.
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